Monitoring student sexual orientation and gender identity in further and higher education

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1 Monitoring student sexual orientation and gender identity in further and higher education Foreword Welcome to this briefing on the monitoring of sexual orientation and gender identity of students in further and higher education. Monitoring data is a crucial tool that both institutions and students unions can use to understand the experiences and needs of students. It has been often used by students union to highlight inequalities in the student population and to monitor progress towards equality of educational experience. However, there is currently no nationwide, systematic method for monitoring the sexual orientation or gender identity of students in further and higher education, leaving lesbian, gay, bisexual, and trans students without this powerful tool. The NUS LGBT Campaign is strongly in favour of collecting monitoring data on student sexual orientation and gender identity, but we recognise how complicated this can be. This briefing introduces you to the issue of monitoring sexual orientation and gender identity, gives an overview of where we are now, and lays out our top tips for how you can move sexual orientation and gender identity monitoring forward at your institution. In unity, Sky Yarlett NUS LGBT Officer (Open Place) Finn McGoldrick NUS LGBT Officer (Women s Place) Table of Contents 1. Introduction 2. The current state of monitoring 3. Best practice in monitoring 4. Winning the arguments 1

2 1. Introduction One of the primary methods that institutions and the further education (FE) and higher education (HE) sectors as a whole use to understand the state of student equality and diversity is by monitoring of certain diversity characteristics, including age, disability, ethnicity, and gender. As the Equality Challenge Unit (ECU) point out, monitoring is widely accepted by institutions as a legitimate tool for equality and diversity work. Monitoring data has also been used by students unions to highlight inequalities in the student experience and campaign for better support and services for students where disparities in participation, retention, attainment, or graduate destinations have been found. Historically, sexual orientation and gender identity monitoring have been less prevalent in institutions, and there is still no national systematic monitoring data for these categories, meaning that lesbian, gay, bisexual, and trans (LGBT) students and their advocates have not had access to this vital source of information. In 2011, the NUS LGBT Conference passed policy in support of the monitoring of sexual orientation and gender identity in further and higher education. However, it would be counterproductive for institutions to introduce this monitoring without making sure that they are asking the right questions, in the right way. This briefing aims to help students unions engage with their institutions on the issue of sexual orientation and gender identity monitoring. It indicates the NUS LGBT campaign s idea of best practice and provides students unions with the arguments in favour of institutional monitoring of sexual orientation and gender identity. Glossary Sex: a term used to denote biological and physiological characteristics; in the UK at present there are two legal sexes: female and male. Gender: refers to socially constructed roles, behaviours and attributes. Terms such as woman and man, feminine and masculine, are used to denote gender. Sex and gender are often used interchangeably, although usually a distinction will be drawn between them for research purposes. Gender Identity: describes the way an individual identifies with a gender category. Examples of gender identity categories are trans and cisgender. Sexual Orientation: describes to whom an individual s physical, sexual, and/or romantic attraction is directed. Lesbian, gay, bisexual and straight are examples of sexual orientations. 2

3 2. The current state of monitoring National sex (gender) monitoring Institutions in both FE and HE routinely monitor the proportions of their students who are female and male, and collect this data both for national use as well as for use within the institution. In further education in England, national data on student characteristics is collected via the Individualised Learner Record (ILR). In higher education, this data is collected via the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) Student Record. Until the 2012/13 academic year, in higher education this has been referred to as the monitoring of gender but it will now be referred to as sex, is intended to monitor the student s legal sex. 1 This was already the case in further education. 2 In higher education, the HESA student record has recently been amended to include the categories female, male, and other, with HESA guidance stating that the other category is more appropriate for people who associate with terms such as intersex, androgyne, intergender, ambigender, gender fluid, polygender, and gender queer. 3 However, HESA does not include the option of prefer not to say for this question. In further education, the ILR only gives the option for female or male for a students sex. This is consistent with the UK legal definition of sex, which also gives only those two options, but arguments could be made that the learner record does not need to be compatible with the law in this way. National monitoring of sexual orientation and gender identity There has been no systematic monitoring of sexual orientation or gender identity in further and higher education, but the introduction of the Equality Act 2010 has raised questions as to how long this can continue to be the case. The Skills Funding Agency (SFA), the funding body adult further education and skills training in England, has stated that it does not propose to collect quantitative data on students sexual orientation or gender identity because, we do not currently believe the case for doing so is currently strong enough to outweigh the risks. 4 Furthermore, the fact that the SFA believes the collection of monitoring data to be risky also may have the effect from discouraging individual FE providers from introducing student sexual orientation and gender identity monitoring on a local level as well. In contrast, the Equality Challenge Unit (ECU), which works with HE institutions across the UK as well as colleges in Scotland, has suggested that collecting data, at least on sexual orientation, is an important first step to a strategic approach to LGB equality. 5 ECU does note, however, the importance of ensuring that other steps are taken to encourage student and staff disclosure; this will be discussed in section three of this briefing. In higher education, the picture is somewhat different. For the first time, in the 2012/13 academic year, HESA has introduced the option for institutions to collect both sexual orientation and gender 3

4 identity data on students as part of the student record. 6 This means that HE institutions now have a framework for collecting this type of monitoring data, but anecdotal evidence suggests that take-up of this option has been patchy, and that institutions are more likely to opt to collect sexual orientation data than gender identity data. 7 colleges were the least likely to have published equality information on religion or belief and sexual orientation, where the information was not found in 85 to 95 per cent of cases. 9 The ECU also has guidance for higher education institutions across the UK on how to extend diversity monitoring for sexual orientation and gender identity. 8 Institutional data monitoring Many colleges and universities do collect data on the sexual orientation and gender identities of their students, although as mentioned above, the status of national efforts to collect this type of data can clearly have a large effect on the number of institutions doing so locally. Institutional data monitoring is important, especially in the absence of a national framework as is currently the case for the FE sector. It is also important to get a picture of how LGBT students are faring at a particular institution, as well as across the sector. However, students unions may in some cases find it harder to access data collected only for institutional purposes as institutions may not publish it in the same way. Although institutions are required to publish equality data under the Equality Act 1010, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) found that universities and colleges were the lowest performing sectors in terms of publishing equality information; and that in particular universities and 4

5 3. Best practice in monitoring Although NUS supports institutions monitoring the sexual orientation and gender identity of their students, it is important that that the right questions are asked, in the right way. If not, students will be less likely to disclose information about their sexual orientation and/or gender identity, and if done very badly, the institution risks alienating LGBT students. Recommended questions National monitoring must be standardized if it to be put to effective use and for this reason NUS supports the use of the available HESA and ILR categories for both sexual orientation and gender identity monitoring. These questions have been suggested by the ECU and closely relate to questions recommended by representative organisations such as Stonewall 10 and Press for Change 11. For the purposes of institutional or national monitoring data in both HE and FE, NUS supports the questions given in the boxes to the right. However, these questions are the beginning of the way that institutions can find out information about the sexual orientation and gender identity of their students, not the end point. When gathering information via other institutional surveys that are not part of official monitoring processes, NUS recommends that institutions: Phrase questions as Which of the following best describes how you think of yourself? which is more inclusive terminology. Include an other option in questions about sex or gender, giving students the opportunity to describe their gender if it does not fit within the binary of female/male or woman/man. Ask an additional question (recommended by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) 12 ) which allows trans people to define themselves more specifically. Sexual Orientation What is your sexual orientation? Bisexual Gay man Gay woman/lesbian Heterosexual/straight Other Prefer not to say Gender Identity Is your gender identity the same as the gender you were originally assigned at birth? Yes No Prefer not to say 5

6 Recommended secondary questions for institutional-level data collection: Sex/gender Which of the following options best describes how you think of yourself? Female Male In another way (please describe) Prefer not to say Gender identity Which of the following describes how you think of yourself? (Tick all that apply) Trans man Trans woman Transsexual person Gender variant person Cross dressing person Transvestite person Intersex person In another way (please describe) Prefer not to say None of the above Sexual orientation Which of the following options best describes how you think of yourself? Heterosexual or Straight Gay or Lesbian Bisexual Other Prefer not to say 6

7 Gathering data in an inclusive way Though the wording of the question is very important, the circumstances around how the question is asked are equally so. There are several principles we would recommend institutions to adopt when gathering data on students sexual orientation and gender identity. 1. Consult with student representatives: Institutions who are planning to introduce sexual orientation and gender identity monitoring of students should work with students unions and representatives of LGBT students to ensure that the data is collected in the best possible way. 2. Be clear on how the data will be used: Data can be collected for many different reasons but students are more likely to disclose their sexual orientation and gender identity if they understand what the institution plans to do with that data. Where possible, explanations of why the question is being asked should be included or linked to with the question itself. 3. Create and communicate robust systems for confidentiality: Not all LGBT students are fully open about their sexual orientation or gender identity. Institutions should make very clear to students how they will keep this information confidential and in particular that it will not be shared with teaching staff or other staff that the students interact with regularly. 4. Give students privacy when they fill in monitoring forms: Students should be able to complete any forms asking them to identify their sexual orientation or gender identity in private. When hard-copy forms are used, staff collecting the forms should not look at students answers as they are being handed in. 5. Always include Prefer not to say : Students should always have the option not to disclose their sexual orientation and/or gender identity (and anything else about their identity). Where institutions have control over the data being collected, they can simply introduce a prefer not to say option. For national monitoring processes, the question on students sex (through HESA Student Records and the ILR) does not allow for students to leave this field blank, but HESA does allow this for sexual orientation and gender identity. A high proportion of respondents selecting prefer not to say could be taken as an indication that some of the principles above are not being fully put into practice. 6. Never use the same question to monitor sex, sexual orientation and/or gender identity: Sex, Sexual orientation, and gender identity are separate characteristics and should never be asked about in the same question. For instance institutions should never include trans as a third option in questions about sex, nor should they include it as an option under sexual orientation. 7

8 4. Winning the arguments Students unions that decide to lobby their institutions to introduce monitoring of students sexual orientation and gender identity may encounter questions and concerns from their institution. The following are examples of common arguments heard against monitoring students sexual orientation and gender identity, along with the counter-arguments that should help students unions to win sexual orientation and gender identity monitoring for their institutions. Argument: It is not necessary to know the sexual orientation or gender identity of our students to provide them with a high quality education. Counter-argument: Sexual orientation and gender reassignment are protected characteristics under the Equality Act 2010, and public institutions like universities and colleges have a duty to advance equality of opportunity amongst other things. 13 Although there is no legal requirement for institutions to monitor sexual orientation and gender identity, they are required to demonstrate how they are meeting their equality duties and the ECU recommends that the publishing of monitoring data is a key way to achieve this. 14 Argument: Asking for such personal details might make students uncomfortable. Counter-argument: It is a misconception that all LGBT students will regard this as highly sensitive information. While it is true that some students may be uncomfortable giving their personal information to their institution, many LGBT students are fully open and comfortable about their sexual orientation and gender identity. The way the question is asked is far more likely to influence whether students feel comfortable answering it than the characteristic they are being asked about. This concern does, however, make it clear why it is important to have a prefer not to say option, which is also recommended by the ECU. 15 Argument: There is likely to be a low disclosure rate. Counter-argument: Similar to the arguments around the personal nature of these questions, a low disclosure rate is more likely to indicate problems with the way the question or the circumstances under which the data is collected. The disclosure rate will be zero if the question is never even asked, so any amount of data is better than none. Furthermore, simply including the question on forms and surveys is likely to increase the disclosure rate over time as people become accustomed to seeing the question being asked. 16 Agument: The numbers of people involved are too small to give meaningful data. Counter-argument: Without collecting any monitoring data, institutions will not know how small or large their populations of LGBT students are. Even if the proportion in the general population is thought to be relatively low, it is possible that certain institutions or courses will have a much higher proportion of LGBT students. There is no way to know without asking the question. 8

9 6. Endnotes 1 Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA). Annex A: Changes to the Student Record for 2012/ The Information Authority (2011). Specification of the Individualised Learner Record for 2011/ ACCA2C4/0/ILRSpecification201112_01Aug2011_v4.pdf 3 HESA Student Record 2012/13. href,a%5e_%5esexid.html/ 4 Skills Funding Agency (2010). Single Equality Scheme Consultation. 5 Equality Challenge Unit (ECU) (2012). Delivering LGB equality: Making your college LGBfriendly. 6 HESA. Annex A: Changes to the Student Record for 2012/13. 7 ECU (2013). Extending Diversity Monitoring: How to get the best results when monitoring religion and belief, sexual orientation and gender identity. 8 ECU (2013). Extending Diversity Monitoring: How to get the best results when monitoring religion and belief, sexual orientation and gender identity. 9 Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) (2012). Publishing equality information: Commitment, engagement and transparency al.pdf 10 Stonewall (2012). Using Monitoring Data: Making the most of sexual orientation data collection. 11 Unison (2011). Workforce monitoring for sexual orientation and gender identity. 1

10 12 EHRC (2012). Collecting information on gender identity. 13 EHRC (2011). What equality law means for you as an education provider further and higher education. 14 ECU (2013). Extending Diversity Monitoring: How to get the best results when monitoring religion and belief, sexual orientation and gender identity. 15 ECU (2013). Extending Diversity Monitoring: How to get the best results when monitoring religion and belief, sexual orientation and gender identity. 16 Scottish Government (2010). Collecting Equality Information: Guidance on Asking Questions on Sexual Orientation. 2

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